Spherical cameras seem to be one of the more undesired tech trends to be pushed on people in the past couple of years. Consumer tech companies have opted to develop these expensive products as a segue into capturing the user-generated VR vertical, but with VR itself in a rather tenuous position, the market for a fairly pricey spherical camera that captures more content than users can realistically handle seems suspect, to say the least.
Enter GoPro, a company in the midst of a corporate turn-around that is looking for a new breakthrough product to clarify its future. The GoPro Fusion is, to be certain, one of the better 360-degree cameras out there, delivering quality 5.2K/30fps footage in a very friendly package that does much of what other GoPros do so well. It is still an experimental product in an unestablished vertical. However, and the true test of its future success, the company’s Overcapture feature, which allows users to shape the 360 video into more traditional views, is still very much a work in progress.
Build-wise this camera strikes a pretty nice balance on size and wits. It’s a very powerful square.
5.2K at 30fps leads to some great-looking shots; you also can hit 60 frames if you downgrade to 3K, though you’ll likely want to stick with the 5.2K setting to give yourself more flexibility in post with the GoPro software.
The video quality outperforms competitors in a lot of situations. In bright dynamic environments the footage wasn’t blown out like others I’ve tested, and low-light video outperformed my expectations. Features like time-lapse yielded some exciting results. Photos shot at 18MP were just okay, but largely lacked the vibrance of the video I captured.
Video stabilization issued some helpful subtle corrections, but with 360 video there’s really only so much that can be done. Worth noting is that while this camera seems particularly well-suited for drone-mounted video, the current Karma drone and stabilizer are sadly not compatible. The camera comes with a selfie stick/tripod that’s a bit hefty, but very comfortable to hold. The camera’s stitching software comes with something called “angel mode” that strips the mounting pole from the shot, making the camera looks like it’s truly stuck in mid-air.
The camera is waterproof up to 16 feet (5 meters) but performance isn’t great for the Fusion underwater as the camera’s stitching becomes especially wonky due to the light diffractions. The poor quality here was definitely a bit of a disappointment.
The battery life was honestly better than I had expected, given that most 360 cameras are awful in this regard. That being said, if you don’t really have something specific in mind to shoot, you’ll likely want to bring along a backup battery or two for shoots you can anticipate lasting more than a couple of hours.
You’ll have to be a tad more careful with this GoPro than those before it thanks to the Fusion’s bulging fish-eye lenses. Any scratch on a 360 lens becomes infinitely more noticeable once the scene is rendered, so keeping the camera housed in its included case is a must.
Navigating menus screens on the Fusion is a bit more cumbersome without the touch display; using the mode and shutter buttons to jump through menus is no deal-breaker, but things have gotten so slick on the HERO6 that it just feels weird to step back in time.
GoPro has had a lot of time to refine the Hero line, getting to where the HERO6 Black now sits at the top of its class; the Fusion gets the big things right but, there are some areas that still need refining.
The software is where the Fusion has the most potential, but also where GoPro has the most to work on. GoPro’s much-hyped Overcapture feature, which allows you to capture more traditional windows inside the spherical content, is far too labor-intensive in its current desktop iteration, and the mobile version (which I had a brief, largely positive early demo with) won’t be released until next month.
The ultimate potential offered by 360 cameras that can capture everything and use software tricks to find the shot you desire could to be revolutionary, but the necessary computer vision wits to pull that off on the Fusion specifically is an area GoPro isn’t touching right now. The new GP1 chip on the HERO6 has a feature to find visually interesting shots using the company’s QuikStories app, but there’s no word on a similar feature coming to Fusion via a firmware update.
In the meantime, Fusion just gives you too much to work with, and editing footage down to scale with Overcapture is time-consuming and never feels quite right. It’s also worth noting that you’re going to need a beefy computer and an up-to-date phone to do any editing in the first place.
Working inside the GoPro mobile app is actually pretty pleasant and remains one of the areas that the app has the sharpest advantages over competitors. The live camera feed is quite a bit more critical here for posed shots given the lack of a display on the camera — you can play around with the view and warp stuff around in fun ways. There are still some areas where the app could use improvements, but I’m largely enthusiastic about the potential of Overcapture once it hits the app.
Overall, the GoPro Fusion feels a tad unfinished, but there’s enough that the company has done right to recommend it as a worthy 360 camera that’s particularly well-suited to existing GoPro users familiar with the company’s apps and feature sets. The ability of GoPro to perfect Overcapture could be a game-changer for the company, but we’ll just have to see how well the mobile companion shapes up next year. As is, this is a $699 device that captures exciting visuals in a format that still has a ways to go in proving itself.
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